Explain the economics of cemeteries to me

You buy a plot, then are eventually planted in it. Then your plot is (theoretically) maintained until the end of time.

Who owns cemeteries? Aren’t some owned as commercial enterprises? If so, how on earth would a cemetery be financially viable?

I know the plots are expensive, but once you’ve sold out, aren’t you sort of screwed? You have all this land to maintain with no revenue coming in.

Some cemeteries are owned by governments (city, town, Federal) and maintained by taxes; others by churches or non-profits organized for the purpose, and some commercial. Commercial cemeteries charge for the plot and put a certain percentage into an endowment fund, the interest from which pays for “perpetual care.” More info?

I worked in a mortuary in Oakland down the street from Mountain View, a private cemetery, where we did some business, (but mostly just cremations). Once I walked around the perimeter and noticed that along Clarewood drive (the northeast edge) there was an embankment that dropped suddenly toward the street. I took a closer look and noticed that embedded into it were quite a few old grave stones, randomly strewn about. They were all from the 19th century. I had to conclude that the descendants of those people had probably just stopped paying for upkeep.

What I wondered about were the mausoleums–the Bechtel family, for example, has one there. Did they just pay a lot of money up front for a permanent spot? Or do they pay regular “rent”? If so, what if they stopped paying it?

svd678 explains, it to me now, though.

The Master addressed this and other grave issues


I would really like to know about the economics of the funeral business - especially about what is done to a dead body and how much it costs.

How does the mortician force blood out of a dead body? And what is that blood replaced with?

Is this part of the OP? Or would it be thread jacking and would it be better to ask this in a diff thread?

There was an “Ask the Funeral Director” thread once. From my own experience I can tell you what I know from hanging out talking with the embalmers while they worked. They put the body on an incline, cut major arteries/veins, and then just let the blood drain. The embalming fluid is something the gets injected through the circulatory system after it’s drained, and that has formaldehyde, I believe–it actually gave me a headache from the fumes, so I didn’t stay around during the process that long. I never considered the cost–our embalmers were free lancers, and I believe the funeral home supplied the fluid, which was probably the major expense.

In Europe (at least here in Germany, but I think the same applies in other European countries), grave plots are not sold and then yours for all eternity. They’re leased out for a limited period, typically 20 or 25 years, with an option for renewal. If no renewal occurs, the plot is vacated and then leased out to someone else. Frankly, I have no idea what they do with the remains of the previous occupant, and I’m not sure I want to know. Typically, the cemeteries are run by local councils on a not-for-profit basis.

I have seen regular reports over here saying that we are running out of space for burials. This in spite of the fact that 75% of us are cremated.

A typical burial plot costs around £1000 - £10,000 depending where you are. Councils vary and this kind of clause in the contract seems fairly typical - “Private grave plots provide the exclusive right of burial for 60 years and once this time has passed, the right can be extended for a further 40 years. Only two burial spaces per person can be purchased at any time and both single and double graves are available.”

Most cemeteries that still accept new burials are council run, but there are private ones as well. A popular new trend is for woodland burials, where the dead become fertiliser for trees.

The Norwegian law of burials dictates that a grave can only be reused if coarse bones and bits of coffin are all that remains. The bones are reburied at the bottom of the grave before the funeral of the next occupant.

Not true for all of Europe. My family’s graves are in Pamplona’s “new cementery” (c. 1898); in older ones, the graves were “for all eternity”; in some newer ones, they’re limited-time. The niches in that one are limited-time while the graves and mausoleums are perpetual (niches usually have room for one or two people, the graves are “multiple occupation” and get emptied occasionally; one of the things interrers do when they need to open one is check whether it will need to be emptied).

When the cementery was approaching its 100th anniversary, the Major (who was from out of town and apparently caught her advisors staring at the moon) proposed “reposessing” any plots that had been purchased as part of the original sale: someone pointed out that perhaps that could be done with those that didn’t have any current owners, but what about the ones “in use” for lack of a better word? Much shuffling of property records ensued, and the graves stayed “for perpetuity”, including a group which most definitely do not have individual owners but trying to repo them would have gotten the major hanged, drawn, quartered and sewn back together for an encore: a section occupied by unknown soldiers from the '36 civil war.

Over here, the remains are simply reburied together in a common grave. The leases runs from 5 years (potter’s field) to 99 years (“perpetual”).

I see them exhuming decades-old graves - are coffins and dead bodies NOT meant to decompose? What’s there to exhume?

Depending on whether or not the body was embalmed, what kind of casket it was buried in, how deep it was buried, the water content of the soil, the temperature & climate, etc. an exhumed body could be anywhere from nothing but dust & bones to perfectly preserved.